“Show me a good loser, and I’ll show you a loser.”
— Stu Ungar, Three-Time World Series of Poker Winner
Being a good poker player is about more than luck or learning a couple tricks or cheating. It’s about thinking, awareness, analysis, and strategy. These are the same principles that separate good law firm marketing plans from bad, and it’s not a trick or a tactic – it’s an approach to learning and analyzing. I’m going to show you how to think on different levels and “win” more with your marketing campaigns, which should include both brand reinforcement and sales activation tactics, and we’re going to do it by thinking like a poker player.
Author’s note: Poker is a complex and evolving game, and the information in this article is in no way to be considered comprehensive advice or guidelines for playing/winning poker. We do not encourage anyone to behave irresponsibly with their money or take financial risks. Also, state laws may not look favorably upon poker and/or gambling in your location, and we do not condone anyone doing anything illegal anywhere at any time. Anything you may or may not do at a card table after you read this is on YOU, not us.
In the Beginning, It’s All About You
When you first start to learn the game, there’s too much going on to handle all at once, so what most beginners are encouraged to focus on is the cards they are dealt. In poker, there are starting hand charts that various people/organizations have created to calculate the ranking of starting hands based on what has the best odds to win. You can see one of these charts by clicking this link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Texas_hold_%27em_starting_hands
Your thought process goes no further than the cards in your hand. If the cards are “good,” you bet. If they are “bad,” you fold. You may notice I put good and bad in quotes there, and you’ll understand why later in the article, but for now, this is how it works. Black and white – good or bad, bet or fold.
This is Level 1 thinking, and all it’s taking into consideration is: “What do I have?” You might as well be playing your cards face up, but due to the fact that there are a lot of bad card players out there, you can get surprisingly far with this approach.
In legal marketing, this is where everyone starts. You define what you are: “I am a lawyer.” Name, address, phone number. Your website, business cards, Avvo listings, Yelp, and everywhere else you can drop “your name + lawyer.” All of this is not bad, but you’re just validating your existence to the digital world as “Your Name, Attorney at Law.” If you are in an area with a smaller population or in a legal desert (link https://www.law360.com/articles/1121543/no-country-for-old-lawyers-rural-u-s-faces-a-legal-desert), you can probably get pretty far with this alone – just like sticking to your poker hand chart.
But for most lawyers and law firms, eventually you’re going to be discouraged by the results and start to wonder how the attorneys who beat you are doing it. After all – they have the same listings, right? Same Yelp, same Super Lawyers, but they seem to be getting the action and reviews and stars, and you have a growing suspicion it’s coming at your expense.
What Do They Have?
At the card table, once you pull your nose up out of the starting hand chart and start paying attention to what other players are doing, you will have a revelation. This usually occurs after you go home several times with a lot less money than you left with and you begin reviewing the events of the game in your mind. It will make you feel smart and stupid simultaneously, and it’s this: “I know what I have, but this would be a lot easier if I knew what THEY have. Hey, wait a minute … I bet I can try to figure that out!”
This is Level 2 thinking – starting to think about what the other players might have. You have a solid understanding of starting hands, so you don’t have to devote all your attention to that. Instead, you can start paying more attention to what’s going on at the table and try to use that information to put the other player on a hand or at least a range of hands.
Now when you get cards, you watch what the other players at the table do and you think, “Why would they do that? What cards would I have if I did that? Am I ahead or behind?” At the same time, you also realize how much you have been missing and how poorly you have been playing by NOT thinking about this and focusing solely on your hand. A little humility can help ensure you only have to learn this lesson once.
Here is where patterns begin to emerge, and the beginnings of situational strategic play become clear.
In marketing, this is where you shift your focus away from “I am a lawyer, here I am,” to thinking about why someone would need a lawyer specifically – one such as yourself – and giving them the answer. Questions like “Injured in a car accident?” or “Hurt on the job?” are now part of your message and branding – and in fact, marketing terms like “messaging” and “branding” are starting to find their way into your brain with more frequency, and with better definition.
The point is, at this level, you’re shifting the focus away from yourself and what you have and instead are observing the people around you. Understanding what they are doing now can help you predict what they might do next, which can help you achieve your goals, whether it’s winning the hand or signing a new client. You’re probably still losing money here, but important foundational concepts are starting to make sense.
After a while, you get pretty good at guessing what other people have or a range of hands they might have. You can’t be totally sure because you don’t get to see their cards every time – and that’s when the next realization hits you:
They can’t see your cards either.
Just like you are trying to piece together what they have, they are trying to figure out what you have.
This is Level 3 thinking, or “What do my opponents think I have?” This is also where the real fun starts.
Level 3 is where you start using your actions to tell a story for your opponents, and it can happen independent of the cards you actually hold (blurring the hard lines of “good” and “bad” drawn by those hand charts back on Level 1). Sometimes they are congruent or parallel, and sometimes you will represent having something different. Bluffing, misdirection, reading “tells” – all this starts to come into play here. The point is, you are deliberately using your actions (or lack of actions) to influence the other player’s decisions.
In marketing, this level is about getting in front of and ahead of potential clients and positioning yourself as the solution to the current situation they face – many times BEFORE they even get into that situation. You use information and deliberate actions to guide them to your law firm
Establishing a strong, recognizable brand identity, clever advertising, and platform-specific marketing tactics – here’s where you start to put the pieces of your marketing strategy to work.
Now you are thinking beyond being just a lawyer, or a lawyer for car accidents. You are providing answers to questions, establishing expert positioning and trust, using blog content and social media posts to engage your key target demographics because you did your research and know who they are. You are giving people the solution to the mounting medical expenses and missed pay from work. You are more than one of a handful of same-same law firms. You are in their heads guiding them to your intake department.
There are more levels to both poker and marketing, but getting to Level 3 is a good spot, so we aren’t going to continue. However, the way it works is similar to what we have already covered – each new level is built on the last. Let’s remember how we got here:
Level 1 = What I have
Level 2 = What I think they have
Level 3 = What they think I have
Level 1 (What I have) = I am a lawyer
Level 2 (What I think they have) = Identify the problems you can solve with specific practice areas or keywords – personal injury lawyer Chicago
Level 3 (What they THINK I have) = Strong branding, UVP, content related to FAQs (identify the larger problems your potential clients face and answer their questions), empathy and experience, a trusted problem solver
It can start to get complicated the higher up you go, and in particular with poker, you can outthink yourself or give your opponent too much credit for a particular strategy or play – this is called “getting leveled:”
Another point to make is that the path I have laid out in this article is pretty linear. The first step leads to the next, leads to the next. I did this on purpose for the sake of simplicity and illustrating the concepts. In real life, poker hands – like marketing – won’t always follow a straight line.
Everyone has a different path, but the important thing is to have a solid grasp of fundamentals and BUILD on them. Don’t reach a plateau and become complacent because there’s always someone up on the next level looking down.
If you want to understand your law firm’s marketing better and start to apply some next-level thinking – check out the Consultwebs Legal Marketing Nutrition Guide. It’s a great place to start and has everything you need to both understand where you are, see where you need to be, and help you think about how you can start taking your law firm’s digital marketing to the next level.